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【The Standard:Study in the UK】 Turn and face the change

Boarding 101


The “OLD ENGLISH” language has its roots in Anglo-Saxon domination in Great Britain from around the middle part of the 400s. To say that spoken English has come a long way since the fifth century would be understatement, and recent research and a conversation with one teaching specialist have combined to throw up more than a few surprises.

A wet, yet sultry, Wednesday saw me travel across Hong Kong to grab a coffee with Jeffrey Tam, one of Hong Kong’s most recognizable English teachers and the heart of Dr Max. No talking shop, no checking of the phones, just pure enlightening conversation about the evolution of English.


Tam’s encyclopaedic knowledge of Old English is extraordinary. First of all, I was given a history lesson which I could to relate to in the sense that I recognized some of the names Jeffery was mentioning: Angles, Saxons and Jutes – all of which were tribes who had their own dialects which could be understood by each other.


English proceeded to be influenced by the Scandinavians and Norman French conquerors – revision for me, though the most surprising fact I learned is that there is language called Frisian which is regarded as the closest language to English.


Frisian is still spoken in certain parts of Germany, Holland and on some islands surrounding Denmark.


Racked with intrigue after this meeting, I headed back to my office to listen to a lecturer translating a Frisian text into English.


Take the Frisian clause “net lang foar de twadde wraldoarloch” which means “not long before the Second World War.”


It can be noticed that there are marked similarities between the two languages both in terms of the way words are written and phonology.


Another area for discussion with Tam was the evolution of spoken English.


Of course, I hold the view that language should not be frozen in time and has to change in accordance with society. We should be grateful that English is versatile and that there are dialects just about hanging on to their own rules of speech.


Some changes, however, can be frustrating.


The ubiquitous use of “like” has been exaggerated and it also seems fashionable to use fillers such as “uh” and “um.” I won’t start on the use of text speech which children have been prone to use in formal written exams.


Overall, the moral of this story is to respect English for its roots, development and sustainability.


Samuel Chan is the managing director of Britannia StudyLink. 

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